We're finally, FINALLY, moving into summer and if you live in a region of the world where seasons actually fluctuate, you know exactly how much joy this can bring. The days last longer, the air seems clearer, and everyone becomes more proactive about calling relaxation, rest, and renewal into their lives. Picture this; you are on a beach, the smell of sunblock is in the air, the sun is gleaming up against rolling waves, and the only occasional interruption is the squawk of a nearby seagull. Now, look down. What book are you reading?
As a child, I dreaded summer reading assignments. They felt like a wicked trick that teachers all got away with—a pointed attack on my two to three months of freedom. Summers were meant for ice cream trucks and backyard adventures, not “Beowulf.” If I am being honest, I had a lot of free time in those summers and absolutely SHOULD have spent them reading, but as a child this was the furthest thing from my mind.
A decade later, I think I have figured out one of the main issues with all those summer reading assignments throughout the years. The books were too.damn.deep. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not think that anyone should shy away from a little intellectual stimulation. But, summer books should have the same lightness as the season itself. And by calling summer books “light,” I am not actually saying that they carry no weight. I am simply saying that they don’t weigh you down.
The narratives are engaging, but you can jump in and out of them with ease. They deal with important topics, but do so in a way that feels just as intellectually accessible as it is excitable. After delving into some true summer reading, you should leave feeling full. From what I’ve heard, great writing is able to do that.
So, in an attempt to brighten up even the gloomiest of summers, here is a list of some of the best books to add to your summer reading list:
“City of Girls” By Elizabeth Gilbert
$17 at time of publication
Gilbert rocked the world back in 2006 with her novel “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.” The book was part-memoir, part-self-help, part odyssey, part coming of age, and all epic. In it, Gilbert chronicles her international adventures as she sets out on a post-divorce journey towards revitalization. However, her newest novel could not be any more different.
Dazzling showgirls. Glittering lights. The hustle and bustle of 1940s New York. This is the backdrop of “City of Girls.” The story follows Vivian Morris who is no longer a girl, but rather an 89-year old woman. Morris colors the novel with retellings of growing up in New York as a theatre artist, but real life catches up to her quickly and as much as Vivian longs for her past, a sexual scandal demands she reckons with her present.
“City of Girls” is a departure from what Gilbert is usually known for writing, but according to a recent interview on Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Conversations,” she intentionally wrote the kind of story that people would not expect of her. Here at I AM & CO, we are all for women defying expectations and crafting their own narratives. I for one can not wait to get my hands on “City of Girls.”
“More Than Enough” by Elaine Welteroth
$18 at time of publication
First of all, YES TITLE! In 2016, Ms. Elaine Welteroth became the youngest female
editor-in-chief of the international publication, “Teen Vogue.” The youth-centered platform was in a phase of rapid transition; it was pulling back on print distribution and attempting to forge a path into the digital media landscape. At the center of all of this new-wave change was Elaine, a young black woman herself who became the definitive voice of “Teen Vogue.”
While the glory and praise of her accomplishments were circulated all across social media, when Welteroth actually got to work a brand new set of challenges were placed before her. The world was occupied with cheering, but behind closed doors there were uncomfortable negotiations, naysayers, and innately prejudiced policies all plotting to tear her down.
Through it all Elaine persevered, as we ladies are known to do, and ushered in a ton of success and critical acclaim for “Teen Vogue” by leaning into the conversations about race, feminism, sexuality, identity, and politics that have taken over our pop culture landscape.
“Queenie” by Candice Carty-Williams"
$15 at time of publication
I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to this sublime book. We could talk about the stunning cover art or the luscious language or the flawed and relatable protagonist or even the fact that the engenuie author still works a full-time job as a senior marketing executive. Either way, we are showing love to the 2019 novel “Queenie,” and its wonderful author Candice Carty-Williams.
The novel’s titular heroine Queenie is a black, Jamaican-British 25-year-old working in journalism while trying to navigate relationships, love, and self-worth—the very things that seem to allude 20-somethings the most. According to Carty-Williams, the novel is partly autobiographical and writing it was therapeutic. In this interview with Shondaland.com, she shares, “Queenie comes from some of my own experiences, but also the horror stories of friends, and also just me opening my eyes to what the women around me had to go through to get to the version of themselves they're at now.”
“Queenie” is set on a whole other continent than the one I know, but Carty-Williams’ character is so tragically relatable that she easily crosses any geographical borders. The book has hit just about every “highly anticipated” and “highly acclaimed” list that exists, and hopefully it will earn a spot on your summer reading list, too!
“Swing Time” by Zadie Smith
$16 at time of publication
Zadie Smith is not new to the novel game. By all standards she is already a successful essayist, novelist, and critic. She has won a multitude of awards for her work and her words have hit the hearts of people all across the globe.
In her most recent novel “Swing Time,” Smith traces the lives of two childhood best friends, both of whom long to be dancers. I used these very same words to explain the premise of the book to an acquaintance a few weeks back, and he immediately rolled his eyes and uttered a menacingly sarcastic “huh...that sounds interesting.”
At first, I was taken aback by his dismissal of such a great piece of art, but in retrospect I totally get it. A story that, on the surface, seems to just be about two British girls who want to be ballerinas may not come off as groundbreaking, but Smith’s work is one of wonder.
In “Swing Time,” she captures girlhood so truthfully; the good parts, the bad parts, and the parts that are too ugly to name. While her main characters grow up in the UK, on the opposite end of my world, I related to them deeply and ended up caring about their well-being just as much as my own.
“Patsy” by Nicole Dennis-Benin
$18 at time of publication
In her sophomore novel “Patsy,” author Nicole Dennis-Benn returns to the theme of fraught maternal relationships—the same one that underlined her first fiction “Here Comes the Sun.” An openly homosexual Jamaican herself, Dennis-Benn is known to center women of this identity (queer and Caribbean) in her work. By doing so, she hopes to bridge the gaps between sexual liberation, LGBT+ rights, and Caribbean culture. While her work is largely unprecedented, it is 100 percent necessary.
Admittedly, I have not read “Patsy” as yet, but I can not wait to delve into another one of Dennis-Benn’s worlds. As a daughter of West Indian immigrants myself, reading her words often feel like home. If you are not a person of Carib descent and you don’t see yourself whisking away to a gorgeous island any time soon, then “Patsy” should definitely be on your summer reading list.
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama
$18 at time of publication
Question, have you ever heard of a woman named Michelle Obama? My friend told me she used to be the First Lady or something. Rumor has it that she released a highly-anticipated and acclaimed memoir; it was not published until November of 2018 but still managed to be the best-selling book of that year.
In it, she supposedly journals her journey from a joyous yet challenging childhood in South Side, Chicago to her reign as the best FLOTUS America has ever seen. From what I’ve heard, she gets incredibly vulnerable about her time serving the country and shares a few tidbits about her relationship with this guy she married back in 1992. His name is Barack??? I guess if you are not one of the ga-jillions of people who have already read “Becoming,” this summer might be a good time to start. Or not. Whatever.
All jokes aside, it should come as no surprise that Mrs. Michelle Obama’s incredible memoir is on this list. Hopefully, it is on yours as well! Politics aside, her story is one I believe everyone can learn from. She opens up about terrifying pivots in her career, losing loved ones, melding the contrasting personalities of her and her spouse, and raising independent-minded and humble teenage daughters under the most extraordinary of circumstances. Michelle has lived a lot of life in her 55 years and fortunately for us all, she shares some of it in “Becoming.”
“Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriatry
$9 at time of publication
I fear that many people might not know that the critically acclaimed and divinely casted HBO hit series “Big Little Lies” was actually adapted from a book. I fear this because the book is really, really good. The novel, penned in 2014 by Australian author Liane Moriatry, traces the same treasured characters but (MINI-SPOILER ALERT) there are some distinct differences in setting and character development. Essentially, different people sleep with and kill each other in a different part of the world.
Perhaps you are a fan of the show, but never knew that it was based off of a book. Maybe you hate the show, and never bothered to ask. Either way, I recommend picking up a copy of Moriatry’s work and cracking the pages open whenever you are ready for a deliciously sinful read.
Thankfully, I no longer dread summer reading and these women are a big part of the reason why. Their texts provoke, perform, inspire, introduce, unravel, uplift, and makes the connection running through every one of us on this planet just a little bit stronger.